Jun 10, 2009 News
– prominent secondary institution going to the dogs
Teachers at President’s College have gone on a sit-in to press their demands for improved working conditions and their five percent retroactive payment.
The action comes just as students of the premier secondary institution are preparing to sit their end of year examinations.
The teachers have vowed to maintain their position indefinitely if their concerns are not addressed in a timely manner. They are receiving the support of their students who are also lamenting the dilapidated condition of Guyana’s only live in secondary school.
But according to President’s College’s Board Chairman, David De Groot, this year’s budget did not cater for some of the requests the teachers are making.
He said that this year, President’s College was allocated a total of $160M.
Yesterday, this newspaper was taken on a guided tour of the school and so deplorable are the conditions coupled with the inadequate facilities, it is a wonder that President’s College continues to turn out top performances at the external examinations.
There are four major issues affecting the teachers, one of which appears to be on the way to being resolved.
These are teacher’s back pay, senior appointments, the refurbishing of the staff room, including repairs to the toilet facilities and the complete overhaul of the Home Economics and Science Departments. These are in addition to insufficient water supply currently being experienced by the school.
According to Miss Medita Francis, head of the President’s College Teachers Association, several correspondences were sent to the school’s board earlier this month to have the matters addressed but so far there has been no response.
Carbon copies have been forwarded to the Office of the President, the Minister of Education, the Minister of Labour, the Chief Education Officer and the Guyana Teachers’ Union.
“As I speak to you, we are in receipt of the appointments for the senior teachers. So at least that has materialised. However we are awaiting documentation with regards to the other issues,” said Miss Francis.
With regards to their five percent retroactive salary increase, Francis said that initially they were told that they were not entitled based on the status of the President’s College.
The teachers claimed that they were in receipt of previous government five percent increases and they are surprised that they are ‘no longer entitled to it’.
While the inadequate water supply is severely affecting the college’s live-in students, the teachers are also being affected.
They are forced to carry buckets of water to flush after use, since the school’s private well has been inoperable for the past three years with no immediate respite in sight.
Little good can be said for the school’s Staff Room, with teachers having to share chairs whenever their colleagues are in the classrooms.
“The staff room is not really conducive for the teachers as such, but because we always have the children at heart…we’re here, but it’s not the best setting,” Francis stated.
“If this is where you dwell away from home, it is expected that the environment is conducive to working. In terms of occupational health and safety, it’s far from that,” she added.
President’s College has a teacher population of about 35 some of whom are part-timers. According to the teachers, this situation has existed at the school for years.
“These issues are not new to the board. If we the teachers do not take a stand now we would still be in a plight further down the line,” Francis added.
While the school board has been turning a deaf ear to the problems, the parent-teacher association is the body that has been providing assistance.
The school’s home economic department can be described as a disaster area.
The roof is leaking and there was a crude attempt to rectify it, resulting in a Kaieteur Falls-like situation.
According to the Head of Department, Lorraine Brower, the school provides limited finances and initiatives have to be taken to raise funds to facilitate the smooth running of the facility.
“We had to raise funds to purchase a cooker to facilitate the practical aspect of the subject. We had to raise funds to buy a microwave oven. We talk about technology and we would only talk now we have actually showed the children how to use technology in the kitchen.
“We raised funds to purchase a new living room suite. The one that was here was in a deplorable state and we were ashamed of it. We used to use a teacher’s desk as a dining table,” the Head of Department told Kaieteur News. The refrigerator in the Home Economics Department is in need of a fan and again the teachers will have to raise funds to get it fixed.
“I don’t understand what is going on with this department. It’s been neglected for the longest while. Since I’m here, nothing has been done and I’m here for almost three years and no attention has been given. We the teachers have to do the job of the board. We’re in the situation and if we want to make it better it seems as though we have to do it ourselves instead of them taking charge of their responsibilities they were given.”
In order for the students to participate in practical studies, the teachers have to bring utensils from their homes. And to make matters worse, they are accused of stealing when the time comes for them to take their stuff back.
“I will have to take things from my house in order for the children to get to do their practicals. For example, when they have to do their school based assessments for CXC, I bring my things from home,” the Home Economics Department Head lamented.
The science laboratories are no better, devoid of proper desks and benches; they resemble a storeroom at best, the teachers said.
“We don’t have a lab. It’s more like a classroom and not a lab,” Lyn Lewis, one of the science teachers declared.
She said that one of the major issues affecting the school’s laboratories is the lack of running water and the need for acid resistance worktops. A basic microscope is also missing.
“Everything you have to visualise when you are teaching and learning,” Lewis said.
The students at President’s College have been competing with their counterparts from schools at a lower level that have far better laboratory facilities. Despite this they have been holding their own.
This is despite not being afforded the opportunity of extra lessons like their counterparts throughout Guyana. Additionally, the teachers teach up to 16:00 hours daily unlike their counterparts in other schools.
How then has President’s College been able to turn out some of the country’s top CESC performances over the years?
“Pure dedication. That is all I see, and the love of the teachers for the students. I don’t see anything else. We love our students and they are great learners, but we’re really working under some terrible conditions. Junior Secondary Schools have far better laboratories than us,” Miss Lewis said.
According to the teachers, Education Minister Sheik Baksh admitted that he had only visited the college once and that was three years ago. They are calling on President Bharat Jagdeo and the two Education Ministers to take a closer look at the school if it is to remain one of the top secondary institutions in Guyana.
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